The Wreck of the Titan: Or, Futility

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AuthorMorgan Robertson
CountryUnited States
Publication typeNovella
Publication date1898

The Wreck of the Titan: Or, Futility (originally called Futility) is an 1898 novella written by Morgan Robertson. The story features the fictional ocean liner Titan, which sinks in the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg. Titan and its sinking have been noted to be very similar to the real-life passenger ship RMS Titanic, which sank fourteen years later. Following the sinking of the Titanic, the novel was reissued with some changes, particularly in the ship's gross tonnage.[1]


The first half of Futility introduces the hero John Rowland. Rowland is a disgraced former US Navy officer. Now an alcoholic fallen to the lowest levels of society, he has been dismissed from the Navy and works as a deckhand on the Titan. One April night the ship hits an iceberg, sinking somewhat before the halfway point of the novel.

The second half follows Rowland. He saves the young daughter of a former lover by jumping onto the iceberg with her. The pair find a lifeboat washed up on the iceberg, and are eventually rescued by a passing ship. But the girl is recovered by her mother and Rowland is arrested for her kidnapping. A sympathetic magistrate discharges him and rebukes the mother for being unsympathetic to her daughter's savior. Rowland disappears from the world.

In a brief final chapter covering several years, Rowland works his way up from homeless and anonymous fisherman to a desk job and finally, two years after passing his civil service exam, to "a lucrative position under the Government, and as he seated himself at the desk in his office, could have been heard to remark: 'Now John Rowland, your future is your own. You have merely suffered in the past from a mistaken estimate of the importance of women and whisky.' THE END" (1898 edition at Google Books).[2]

A later edition includes a coda. Rowland receives a letter from the mother, who congratulates him and pleads for him to visit her, and the girl who begs for him.

Similarities to the Titanic[edit]

Although the novel was written before the RMS Titanic was even conceptualized, there are some uncanny similarities between both the fictional and real-life versions. Like the Titanic, the fictional ship sank in April in the North Atlantic, and there were not enough lifeboats for all the passengers. There are also similarities between the size (800 ft (244 m) long for Titan versus 882 ft 9 in (269 m) long for the Titanic[3]), speed (25 knots for Titan, 22.5 knots for Titanic[4]) and life-saving equipment. Similarities between the Titanic and the fictional Titan include:

  • Similar names of the ships[2]
  • Both were described as the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men
    • The Titan was 800 feet (240 m) long, displacing 45,000 tons (in the 1898 edition).
    • The Titanic was 882 feet (269 m) long, displacing 46,000 tons.
  • Described as "unsinkable"
  • Had triple screw (propeller)
  • Shortage of lifeboats
    • The Titan carried "as few as the law allowed", 24 lifeboats, which could carry "less than half" of her total complement of 3,000.
    • The Titanic carried only 16 lifeboats (plus 4 Engelhardt folding lifeboats).[5]
  • Struck an iceberg
    • The Titan, moving at 25 knots, struck an iceberg on the starboard side on a night of April, in the North Atlantic, 400 nautical miles (740 km; 460 mi) from Newfoundland (Terranova).
    • The Titanic, moving at 22½ knots,[6] struck an iceberg on the starboard side on the night of April 14, 1912, in the North Atlantic, 400 nautical miles (740 km; 460 mi) from Newfoundland (Terranova).
  • Sinking
    • The Titan sank, and the majority of her 2,500 passengers and crew died; only 13 survived.
    • The Titanic sank, and 1,523 of her 2,200 passengers and crew died; 705 survived.

After the Titanic's sinking, some people credited Robertson with precognition and clairvoyance. Robertson denied this, claiming the similarities were explained by his extensive knowledge of shipbuilding and maritime trends.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Titanic -Futility". Retrieved 2019-06-02.
  2. ^ a b Robertson, Morgan (1898). Futility. New York: M. F. Mansfield.
  3. ^ McCluskie, Tom (1998). Anatomy of the Titanic. PRC. p. 22. ISBN 1-85648-482-3.
  4. ^ McCluskie, Anatomy of the Titanic, p. 23: Titanic's top speed was 21 knots, with a flank speed of 23.5 knots
  5. ^ McCluskie, Anatomy of the Titanic, p. 120
  6. ^ Mowbray, Jay Henry (1912). Sinking of the Titanic. Harrisburg, PA: The Minter Company. OCLC 9176732
  7. ^ Hasan, Heba. "Author 'Predicts' Titanic Sinking, 14 Years Earlier". Time, April 14, 2012.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]